N.Y., Take Lessons from Tennessee

SMYRNA, Tenn. — A high school assembly changed Nicole-Lynn Riel’s life.

In the fall of 2014, as Ms. Riel, a senior, was applying for jobs at Red Lobster, J. C. Penney and Target, a speaker came to her school to talk about a new state program, Tennessee Promise, that would pay the tuition for all students at the state’s community colleges.

When the speaker said school would be free for everyone, Ms. Riel said, she “perked up and said, ‘What?’”

This month, Ms. Riel graduated from Motlow State Community College here, and she will soon start working toward her bachelor’s degree at a four-year school.

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